NewsCrime Desk

The old gangland code dies with ‘Kingsize’

Noel 'Kingsize' Duggan and Nicola
Noel 'Kingsize' Duggan and Nicola

Noel Duggan walked casually down the stairs of his home in Ratoath as I stood nervously at the front door, which had been left ajar.

I wanted to ask him if he had been asked for money for John Gilligan’s begging bowl. It was 2014 and the man who had Veronica Guerin killed had just been released from jail and was hoping his fellow criminals would help him get back in business.

I shifted from foot to foot and readied myself for a stream of expletives and the possibility of the door being slammed in my face. You don’t need to be too sensitive in my business.

Duggan, dressed in a long towelling bath robe and flip-flops,  clocked me as he was half way down the stairs and a huge grin broke out on his face. “Nicola Tallant,” he boomed. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

A big bear of a man, he pulled open the door and invited me in to his home. In the next few minutes I experienced the hurricane of a personality that was Noel ‘Kingsize’ Duggan.

He told me he had been asked for money for that “c**t” Gilligan but that the individual who had made the request had been left in no doubt not to ask again. He would give a dig-out to any poor sod just out of jail – but not a “drug-dealing scumbag”.

In the middle of it all he told me I was far better looking than my picture in the paper suggested and asked did I want him to have a word with the ‘snappers’ about that. I could do nothing but laugh.

He then shifted to a rant about the real criminals “up in the Dail” and asked would I not write about them. He offered me coffee but said he wasn’t much good at making it and he hadn’t “any posh stuff in”.

He was disarming, charming and he was very, very funny. As I left, he told me to make sure I wrote that “Gilligan is a rat. He is hated in gangland”.

The following day, after Kingsize appeared on page one of the Sunday World in his dressing gown, I got a text: “Next time you photograph me let me know you are coming and I’ll put on me best Hugo Boss suit…Look after yourself. Have a good day.”

It was that same photograph of Kingsize in his dressing gown that was the image that marked his passing this week after his brutal assassination in the front drive of his home.

We kept in a bit of contact, myself and Kingsize. I once sought his considered opinion on the government hike in the price of cigarettes in the budget. In his best sense of humour, the largest cigarette smuggler in the country said: “It’s criminal.”

He showed up at a water protest march in Dublin on another occasion. I contacted him about that to ask him was it not ironic that a man like himself who had made millions out of crime should feel the need to protest against the water tax.

“Sure I’ve paid more tax than you will in your lifetime Nicola. Didn’t I pay the CAB all me money. I’ve nothing left.....Look after yourself.”

His bill for unpaid taxes to the Criminal Assets Bureau in 2003 was more than €4 million, so he had a point – twisted logic though it may have been.

Kingsize had grown up in poverty in Dublin. One of 13 children – five of whom suffered from Cystic Fibrosis – he learned to survive the hard way.

His parents were traders who travelled up and down to the north to smuggle cheap goods to sell at ‘The Hill’ market.

He spent time in a borstal but eventually got a trade as a butcher.

But the lure of crime was never too far and he moved into armed robbery and smuggling like his parents before him.

He served a four-year stretch at Portlaoise Prison where he worked as a chef in the kitchen. He swore he would never go back to the ‘big house’.

He loved his parents, and as the proceeds of his smuggling operation flooded in he brought them on holidays and moved them to better accommodation than the council flat they occupied. He nursed his mother through her dying months.

His best friend was Gerry ‘the Monk’ Hutch and together they are suspected of carrying out some of the biggest robberies in the history of the state, including the Brinks Allied and the Marino Mart heists.

In the 80s and the 90s, Duggan had earned his nickname through his reign as the country’s biggest cigarette smuggler – a trade closely associated with the IRA.

Although Duggan was never a member of the Provos, he managed to conduct business while keeping the overlords in the north happy – a symbiotic relationship based on the huge profits of the illegal cigarette industry.

In 2003, Duggan handed over keys to a premises he owned in Dublin’s north inner-city to settle his CAB bill.

He remained bitter about his dealings with the Bureau throughout his life and felt that it was the drug dealers that should have been targeted by the organisation which had been set up after Gilligan’s drug gang murdered Guerin.

Duggan hated drugs and the misery they heaped on the communities where he had been reared and lived.

He had seen and experienced first-hand how families had been ravaged by heroin and cocaine.

The street traders he dealt with were often the struggling mothers who were fighting a  losing battle to keep their kids away from drugs and gun crimes.

He was charitable and regularly gave donations to addiction charities and others trying to help victims of drugs.

As a major criminal figure himself he was able to completely separate drug crime from the likes of loan sharking, smuggling and armed robberies, which were what had made him a very wealthy man.

There is no doubt but Duggan had moved the bulk of his funds abroad by the time he did settle with CAB. He had extensive property interests in Spain, which would later be hit hard by the recession.

He continued to smuggle cigarettes in and out of Ireland right up until his death – for him, crime was an addiction and a difficult one to shake.

In a way, it was all he knew, and friends say he loved the challenge and the buzz he got from getting one over on the gardai and the State.

He had remained very much under the radar for the last decade but his friendship with The Monk was strong.

They regularly met up abroad and in Dublin. He was one of many that attended Hutch’s 50th birthday celebrations in Lanzarote – a party that cost more than €150,000.

On the home front, Duggan was proud of his two sons and his daughter. All had been educated and had nothing to do with the world from which he came.

He lavished attention on his young grandchildren and loved to spend time with them. He was a regular mass goer and never went a week without laying flowers on his mother’s grave.

But in the other parallel universe which he lived he continued to mix with the major players in organised crime, both sides of the border.

For him, the underworld was his ‘drug’ and try as he might, he just couldn’t shake it or walk away to the retirement that his family desperately wanted him to.

I was saddened when I heard the news on Wednesday night that Noel ‘Kingsize’ Duggan was murdered.

Unlike the cowards that saw him as an easy target, Kingsize lived by the old codes of gangland, who many believe have died with him.